Dressed up in Plastic under the Christmas tree

Gifts under the tree during the holidays often include new clothes: the jeans that you saw in the window of the shop the other day, the ski jacket for the upcoming trip or the nice pant suit for New Years. It might be beautiful but most fashion is produced in immense quantities, cheap and fast which gives its name to the so-called fast fashion industry that is often behind these gifts.

We keep increasing the production of clothes. While we only produced 50 billion pieces of clothing per year at the beginning of the 21st century, the current number lies at 100 billion pieces[1]. Statistically every person in Germany buys over 60 new pieces of clothing every year – of which 40 percent are never even worn[2]. These consumption practices lead to a colossal mountain of textile waste which includes immeasurable amounts of plastic garbage, since over 60 percent of the fibers used in textile production are synthetic[3]. Polyester alone, as the most used fiber in the textile industry, can be found in 52 percent of all clothes[4].

Almost all synthetic fibers used in the textile industry are manufactured from fossil fuels. The sector is among the most damaging to nature and climate. It is responsible for 15 percent of the global plastic production[5].

Furthermore, our clothes lose thousands of microplastic fibers during every wash. Through the sewage from each of our wash cycles this plastic pollutes the environment. This abrasion is so severe that 35 percent of the microplastics found in the oceans comes from textiles[6]. These microplastics will eventually end up in our food and can already be found in human stool samples[7]. The effects of microplastics on the human body and the environment have not yet been comprehensively investigated. However, scientists already suspect massive negative health ramifications in humans such as inflammation[8].

In the end every piece of clothing will be thrown away. The investigative service Cordis of the European Commission estimates that in the EU alone 16 million tons of textiles are thrown into the garbage every year[9]. The US produces almost 17 million tons textile waste of which only 2,5 million tons or 15 percent are recycled[10].

To solve this planet’s plastic problem, the textile industry has to rethink its practices. However, it doesn’t hurt to think twice about whether we really need that new piece of clothing. 

For more information on this topic have a look at page 65 in our Dirty Profits Report 8.


This is the second part of our alternative Christmas series. Please support us with your donation so that we can continue to demand more responsibility from corporations and banks. Thank you!


[1] NDR Markt (21.09.2020): „Wegwerfmode: Was passiert mit Altkleidern?“ Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.ndr.de/ratgeber/ verbraucher/Wegwerfmode-Was-passiert-mit- Altkleidern,kleidung170.html

[2] Remy, Nathalie / Speelman, Eveline / Swartz, Steven (20.10.2016): „Style that’s sustainable: A new fast-fashion formula.” New York: McKin- sey & Company. Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-func- tions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats- sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula# Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit (13.01.2020): „Mode und Textilien.“ Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.bmu.de/themen/wirtschaft-pro- dukte-ressourcen-tourismus/produkte-und- konsum/produktbereiche/mode-und-textilien/

[3]  Resnick, Brian (11.01.2019): „More than ever, our clothes are made of plastic. Just washing them can pollute the oceans.” Washington, DC. Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.vox. com/the-goods/2018/9/19/17800654/clothes- plastic-pollution-polyester-washing-machine

[4] BizVibe (23.06.2020): „Global Synthetic Fibres Industry Factsheet 2020: Top 10 Synthetic Fiber Manufactures in the World.” Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.bizvibe.com/ blog/textiles-and-garments/top-10-synthetic- fiber-manufacturers/

[5] Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (2019): „Plastikatlas: Daten und Fakten über eine Welt voller Kunst- stoff.“ [3. Auflage]. Berlin: S. 22.

[6] UN Environment Programme (12.11.2018): „Putting the brakes on fast fashion.” Abgerufen am 20.10.2022: https://www.unenvironment. org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes- fast-fashion

[7] Baker, Sam (22.10.2018): „Alarm im Darm: Erstmals Mikroplastik im Menschen nachge- wiesen.“ In: DW, abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.dw.com/de/alarm-im-darm- erstmals-mikroplastik-im-menschen-nachge- wiesen/a-45961356

[8] Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (2019): „Plastikatlas: Daten und Fakten über eine Welt voller Kunst- stoff.“ [3. Auflage]. Berlin: S. 22f.

[9] Informationsdienst der Gemeinschaft für Forschung und Entwicklung (CORDIS) (18.11.2019): „Gebrauchte Textilien dienen jetzt als Rohstoff für die chemische und Textilindustrie.“ Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://cordis.europa.eu/article/id/411525- discarded-textile-now-a-raw-material-for-the- chemical-and-textile-industries/de

[10] United States Environmental Protection Agen- cy (n.d.): „Textiles: Material-Specific Data.” Abgerufen am 20.12.2022: https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about- materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-mate- rial-specific-data